No deal on biofuels share limit
Environment ministers met last week and discussed the European Commission’s proposal to limit the share of biofuels from agricultural sources in transport to five per cent.
In addition, the proposal introduces factors in relation to indirect land use change (ILUC), also known as the climate impact of clearing land and cultivating crops intended for biofuel production. Under the proposal this would be for information purposes only.
Furthermore, the proposal promotes the transition to ‘advanced’ biofuels. This consists of fuels made from residue or algae.
As a means to encourage the transition to advanced biofuels, the Commission’s proposal includes grants or ‘climate bonuses’ that would be based on the fuels capacity to reduce greenhouse gas emissions (GHG). The proposal would also introduce a 60 per cent GHG reduction in the number of biofuel production plants established after July 2014. This proposal is part of the measures being taken to reach the 2020 target of introducing 10 per cent of renewable energy in transport.
Environment ministers were asked to consider two questions when examining the proposal.
The first is whether the Commission proposal adequately fulfils its objectives. This required ministers to assess the ILUC factors and the promotion of advanced biofuels.
The second question was whether the ministers believe the Commission’s proposal will contribute to achieving the 2020 energy and climate change goals.
The environment ministers were critical of the proposal as were the energy ministers who had also examined the proposal in light of these same two questions in recent weeks.
Many objections have been raised in relation to this proposal. Firstly there is evidence that biofuels can have a worse impact on carbon emission than the traditional extracted oil. In addition, member States such as Hungary, the Czech Republic and Poland feel ILUC are a big problem for third countries that have less sustainable agriculture.
Two examples of countries that are likely to be affected are Brazil and Indonesia. Both countries have stated that the land designated for plants for biofuel production are eating into the land used for food production. This food production land is also negatively impacted by the intensive usage of pesticides on biofuel plants. As a result, both the food and groundwater is being polluted.
Thus, food security is being put at risk and local water supplies are being rendered undrinkable. Furthermore, some of the chemicals used in the pesticides are banned in the EU.
The Commission’s proposal setting the limit on the share of biofuels in transport has been rejected by countries such as Poland, Austria and the Netherlands.
Austria advocates a proposal that would enhance the use of sustainable fuels while the Netherlands wishes to see ILUC introduced for all products. The UK shares a similar view and would like ILUC to apply to all fuels including agricultural fuels.
The ILUC proposals are scheduled to be voted on in the European Parliament in July.
The share limit has also been questioned by other member states such as France and Belgium. They are hoping to achieve the 2020 targets by encouraging the use of other energies such as electric cars.
However, the proposal is being strongly defended by the Commission. Climate Commissioner Connie Hedegaard stated that a higher cap on the share limit of biofuels would reduce the effectiveness of the proposal to reduce GHG. Energy Commissioner Gunther Oettinger has taken a more flexible approach stating that the Commission was open to amending the cap.
The system of multiple counting in the promotion of advanced biofuels has also been questioned by member States. Estonia and Finland feel this system is illogical and runs the risk of being abused. France wants the Commission to consider in its proposal all advanced biofuels likely to be on the market before 2020.
Malta and Austria have a similar opinion and are calling for the introduction of specific criteria for each individual member State.
The proposal shall be discussed further by an informal Energy Council in April.
David Casa is a Nationalist MEP.